Vol. 10 — No. 32 August 10, 1969
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. So men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never know you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
In Christ Jesus, who with His words is the same yesterday, today, and forever, Fellow Redeemed:
The best known sermon of Jesus is the one we know as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Most people, who call themselves “Christians,” recognize at least a line or a phrase from this sermon. The same people would most likely agree that the Sermon on the Mount pretty well sums up the message of Christianity. But if those same people would take the time and effort to break through the barrier of religious superficiality but once and would study the message of the “Sermon on the Mount,” they would, no doubt, declare themselves in disagreement with the words of Jesus—but they would, most likely, still insist that they are “Christians.”
Here we can see one of the ailments that infects many who bear the name “Christian” today. They drive a wedge between Christ and His Word. They honestly imagine that they can be “Christians” while playing “fast and loose” with Christ’s words. They believe that they have the right to modernize the words of Christ or adjust them to the thinking of the day, while still claiming His Name.
This is a fatal error. No one can have Christ without having His Word. Christ Himself said that all shall be judged by His Word: “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12:47-48. On the other hand Jesus said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” John 8:31. Christ and His Word go together. You just can’t have one without the other! That’s the simple truth of the matter—a truth that so many so-called “Christians” today want to by-pass or ignore.
That the situation is as we have described it can be easily tested by noting—
Jesus issued a solemn warning: “Beware of false prophets!” He knew it wouldn’t be easy to heed that warning because false prophets are, at times, difficult to recognize. He said that they would “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The false prophets appear harmless, even very helpful, very solicitous about the spiritual welfare of others. But they are actually dangerous—as ravening wolves are. Why? Because every religious half-truth or falsehood, however innocent it may seem to be, is poison to faith in Christ Jesus. Scripture uses two pictures to describe the goods that false prophets peddle: leaven and gangrene. Leaven permeates the whole lump of dough. So false doctrine undermines and infects the whole body of doctrine, ever seeking to change its message from grace to works. Gangrene tends to spread in the body, changing living tissue into putrefying death. So false doctrine tends to infect faith and will, unless counteracted by the grace of God, destroy faith in Jesus Christ and thus cause eternal death.
Think of the elaborate quarantine precautions that are being taken to protect us on earth from any germs from the moon. We don’t want life on this planet destroyed by microorganisms from outer space. What a contrast it is when people who bear the name of Jesus Christ think, believe, teach and confess that they need take no precautions at all against false prophets who peddle soul-destroying, eternal-life-destroying doctrines. Ask yourselves: When did you hear warnings about false prophets before you came to this church—yea before the last two and a fraction years? Were errors in doctrine pointed out and identified, together with those who peddle them? Wasn’t it rather that everything was considered just a matter of harmless opinion? Wasn’t the basic premise that there really isn’t any false doctrine and there aren’t really and false prophets? Isn’t it true that the modern churches consider false prophets as unreal as witches and goblins? Isn’t it true that when former Bishop Pike denied even the very fundamentals of Christianity—the Holy Trinity, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection—that the Episcopal Church, which certainly considers itself “Christian,” could not muster the spiritual strength to discipline the man? Why not? Because the generally acceptable opinion in most churches today is that there is no such thing as false doctrine, that if there is—it isn’t harmful—and there are no false prophets—just well meaning preachers and teachers who have differing opinions. The modern ecumenical movement would collapse instantly if leaders in the churches and those that sit in the pew would take these words of our Lord seriously: “Beware of false prophets!” What a truly amazing contrast between the words of Christ and what “Christians” today say. Where Jesus said: “Beware,” so—called “Christians” today coddle, respectfully listen to, heap honors upon, and support false prophets with their gifts and offerings.
Let’s take another look at this amazing contrast between what Jesus once sad and what “Christians” today say:
Jesus tells us how to recognize and identify the false prophets and those who support them: “Ye shall know them by their fruits!” If the false prophet is a “ravening wolf,” the Christian must be able to recognize him for his own protection. Jesus tells you and me today how to recognize the false prophet: “Look at his fruit!” Jesus reinforced this instruction with some obvious rhetorical questions: “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Who would think of doing such a stupid thing? Then He continued: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” And then again: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them!” You can and you must identify the false prophets! You can and you must or else you can’t beware of them.
What do so many “Christians” today say? They say, “You shouldn’t point out error in other churches. You shouldn’t name names and point fingers. It just isn’t the nice thing to do.” But those same people would scream to high heavens if the local government officials—the health department—would cease testing the drinking water of the community. They would scream gross negligence of duty if the federal government ceased inspecting meat and infected meat products would turn up in the grocery stores and there would be an epidemic breaking out. Why is it that people can be so germ conscious, so very concerned about their physical welfare—but so totally unconcerned about the welfare of their souls? Why do “Christian” people contradict the Lord? Why do they say: “You shouldn’t point out errors in doctrine, you shouldn’t name names; it just isn’t nice!” Because they refuse to take the warning of the Lord seriously.
But there is another reason. They say it’s impossible to know what doctrine is right and which is wrong, who is a true prophet and who is a False prophet. In brief, they contradict the Lord who said: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Actually they raise the charge that the Holy Ghost was so befuddled and so mixed up that He couldn’t move the holy writers to write plain enough so that the average person can check what a preacher says with what is written in the Bible. That’s a terrible accusation to make against the Spirit of God!
We have had much doctrinal preaching and teaching the last two years. And we have had a number of people leave the congregation for what is being preached and taught. But we have had no one, but NO ONE, who has said that what is preached or practiced is out of line with the Scripture. We have heard that what is being preached and practiced is different from former customs and practices—which is true. But no one has ever alleged that what we preach and teach is contrary to the Word. You people know that the teaching is according to the Word. How do you know? Because you have examined the fruit. You’ve compared what you’ve heard with the Word. You know the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” It isn’t at all difficult to see that organizations which say, ‘Thou shalt have any kind of a god,” are out of line with this Commandment. You know that the only way to be saved is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. It isn’t hard to see that organizations which teach salvation by character, that “Character determines destiny” and churches that preach Christ and then add a whole string of man-made rules and regulations as conditions for salvation are headed by false prophets and are endorsing soul-destroying errors. When Scripture says that we are conceived and born in sin, it isn’t hard to see there is something wrong with preachers who say there is no sin and guilt until a child reaches the age of responsibility. “By their fruits ye shall know them!” Check what the prophets say with what the Word of God says! Check what I preach and teach and write with the Word of God! That’s the only way that you can know whether I or anyone else is a true or a false prophet. You can and you must identify prophets so that you can “beware” of the false and heed the true.
There is still another amazing contrast between what Christ said and what so many “Christians” today say—concerning the fate of the false prophets and those who listen to them.
Christ warned against false prophets. He showed how they can be and must be identified. And then, as though to make all of us take this seriously, he revealed the eternal fate of the false prophets. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” That what orchard men do, isn’t it? What fruit grower would leave a worm-infected peach tree that produced unsalable fruit in his orchard? He’d cut it down and get rid of it. So the Lord will do with all false prophets. But how they will plead and cry on that last day of judgment! But the Lord says: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” To cry the name “Lord” and to call oneself a “Christian” will avail nothing if one does not do the will of the Father—which is always a matter of sincere repentance and faith, followed by submission to His Word. “Many will say to me in that day—here come the false prophets—Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” And what will be the response of the Lord? Not the sentimental nonsense of today: “You did your best, you were so serious, you meant so well.” No! “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Does that sound harsh and rough? To our modern ears, may be—but so it shall be. We are to believe that so it shall be!
But what is the opinion of so many “Christians”? You can hear it on every side: “Just as there are many different roads that lead to Columbia, so there are many roads that lead to heaven.” Who says so? Not Jesus. He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6. The Lord doesn’t know of ways that reject Him, that extol man’s works and accomplishments as ways to heaven. He knows only of the way of repentance and faith in Him, of despairing of self and trusting Him. There is no other way. Church leaders with doctor’s titles and with nationwide and worldwide public renown may shout themselves hoarse to the contrary, but there still is only one way to heaven—through Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
But they plead: “If God is love, He just can’t and He won’t damn anyone to hell.” Yes, He will! He is love. The cross is proof of that. God loved every wicked, lost, and condemned sinner so much that He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. But when man turns his back upon God’s Son, when he thumbs his nose at God’s salvation, there is nothing left but the wrath of God, for “he that believeth not shall be damned.”
There is a contrast, an amazing contrast between what Jesus said and what so many so-called “Christians” say today. As for me—I intend to abide by what the Lord Jesus said. I pray that you too will not be deceived by the shouts and claims of false prophets all around, but also will abide by the words of the Lord Jesus. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.